In a superb essay on writing, Dani Shapiro writes:
I have taught in MFA programs for many years now, and I begin my first class of each semester by looking around the workshop table at my students’ eager faces and then telling them they are pursuing a degree that will entitle them to nothing. I don’t do this to be sadistic or because I want to be an unpopular professor; I tell them this because it’s the truth. They are embarking on a life in which apprenticeship doesn’t mean a cushy summer internship in an air-conditioned office but rather a solitary, poverty-inducing, soul-scorching voyage whose destination is unknown and unknowable.
If they were enrolled in medical school, in all likelihood they would wind up doctors. If in law school, better than even odds, they’d become lawyers. But writing school guarantees them little other than debt.
A couple of weeks ago, I was asked to take part in a Q&A with the participants of a writing workshop at the Kala Ghoda Lit Fest. I made pretty much the same point there: writing is not a profession. You can take up medicine or engineering or law or management, and you can be a mediocre doctor or engineer or lawyer or manager and earn a perfectly decent living. But if you’re a novelist in India, you have to be among the top five or ten in the country to be able to pay your rent from that. Literary prizes and foreign advances are like a lottery: writing a good book is a necessary condition to get them, but is far from sufficient. And if you don’t hit that lottery, you’d better have another source of income—which, of course, eats into your writing time, and makes it all the more difficult.
So if you want to be a writer, ask yourself what drives you. If it’s anything other than the love of writing—money, success, fame, lit groupies—don’t do it.
On that note, here’s Charles Bukowski.
The Kala Ghoda Lit Fest was a lot of fun, and I always enjoy listening to other writers talk about their work, and the craft of writing. Besides the session I was part of, I got pulled into moderating a couple of other sessions, and had much fun. I can’t understand why the turnouts are so low, though. Are there really so few enthusiastic readers in this city?
On that note, check out this piece by Nilanjana S Roy, “The Lure of the Local Litfest.”
(Shapiro link via Samit Basu‘s Facebook page.)